Friday, May 30, 2008
I'm turning 35 next week. Birthdays have generally elicited a rousing "whatever" from me, but for some reason this one actually feels like a milestone.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
- I didn't have a reason to buy a whole rotisserie chicken
- There's no heirloom tomatoes in these parts for probably two more months
- There's no basil, either - I even managed to run out of dried!
It was excellent.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
L.'s very big on water right now, and mostly what she wanted to do was sit by the pond and throw gravel into it, or get a stick and pretend to be fishing. Eventually we tired ourselves out and went home to relax for a while. JJ made this difficult; he has a bit of a cold and is having a hard time getting down to sleep, making for an intermittently cranky baby. I made bread, D and L went out to run errands, I leafed through recipes, and eventually it was time to start dinner. Since it was supposed to be warm, and I was figuring on having a fair amount of time to muck around in the kitchen, I'd settled on a couple of new recipes.
I love samosas, but it's a bit of a guilty pleasure since I'm sure that they're just plain terrible for me. I had never made them at home, either, assuming them to be difficult. The recipe from last night deals handily with both of those by using phyllo dough for a wrapper, and the results are baked rather than fried - a handy little package to fold up and to eat, the filling so good that I was eating it out of the bowl for a good part of the afternoon. I'd really be tempted to make a smaller version of these for a party, since they're easy to eat out of hand. I've never used phyllo before, but it turned out to be quite easy to work with.
Cumin-Scented Samosas with Mint RaitaI made them without the raita because there was no mint to be had, and as a side dish for a curried pea frittata with fresh tomato chutney (Bon Appetit). I didn't want to have two menu items that included peas, so for the frittata I used some sweet peppers I needed to use up instead. The chutney made what would otherwise have been a so-so egg dish (partly because I overcooked it, admittedly) a standout.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Sorry for the lack of posting lately; last week was nigh-hellish with late days at work and lots of missed sleep due to JJ, who also got us about four times in a three-hour period last night, and sounds like he's about to get up for real now. I haven't had the energy to cook in days, but this week should be getting back on track.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
- No product owner. The product manager nominally responsible for this project is spread too thin, and has little or no involvement with the team. Most of the team is okay with this (it makes me nervous because it lessens accountability, which is one of the main goals of Scrum, I believe). We may be able to get away with it because the project is building a tool that will be largely used by internal people, at least in the early days.
- Two-week sprints. The suggested length is one month; we've been doing two-week sprints since the beginning. At first it was because the team lacked confidence in their estimations, and wanted more frequent checkpoints; now, I suspect everyone is just used to it. Again, it seems to be working fairly well, but I suspect this is project-specific. If we had bigger features to build, two week sprints might not provide the time to get anything done.
- Part-time resources. There's no dedicated QA or doc, and no expectation of ever getting any (I've got three other projects to mind, and QA is by far our most strapped department). I've just been taking whatever handful of project tasks I think I'll have time to work on during a given sprint, taking into account everything else that needs to get done. I feel I'm not really getting whatever benefits come from the methodology.
- No team space. No one has really commented on this. We do have a Wiki for virtual artifacts, but there's no physical team area.
- Seated scrums, and it's apparently impossible to keep developers from talking in detail about what they're doing. Since it's a small team, this hasn't been a problem most of the time, but as we add members the scrums are going to start getting unwieldy if people can't stick to the "what I did, what I'm doing, what's blocking me" formula.
Monday, May 19, 2008
I should probably read it again before I write a real review. I liked the book a lot, but it was strangely understated. Quite a bit of the story is more implied than shown, and the ending feels almost more like a beginning. She's never done a multi-book series, and there's no mention anywhere of a continuation, but I can easily imagine a lot of her fans hoping to hear more about these people. The closer I got to the end, the more puzzled I got by the lack of clear lead-up to the expected showdown, and the final encounter, while dramatic, was nothing like I expected.
Since the book is set in Tombstone, and features many well-known characters, I wasn't sure if I ought to read up on them or not before diving into the book. I ended up not doing so, but if you know your OK Corral history well, you probably get a very different experience. It's an unapologetically fantastical version of the story, obviously, but an excellent read, with finely drawn characters, loving attention to the landscape (I believe Emma Bull lives in AZ these days), and some moments that made me laugh out loud.
Addendum: In this interview there's a mention that she is indeed working on more of the story. Sweet anticipation for her readers!
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Having kept a close eye on the weather forecasts, we were not surprised to find ourselves waking to a city enfolded by heavy rain.
We packed up the car, checked out, and headed back to 5th Ave to look for a breakfast place, quickly spotting a diner whose name I've already forgotten. This is a shame, because it was a great little diner. We squeezed ourselves into a booth and lingered there while the waitresses cooed over JJ and L consumed a shocking quantity of pancakes.
And then it was time to get back on the road. Getting out of New York always presents a problem for us, and this time it was no different, as we missed the on-ramp to the expressway we wanted and ended up taking something of an impromptu driving tour of the city, foiled by one-way streets, bad traffic, and pedestrians with a death wish. We were glad to have had a large, late breakfast, as it was well past noon before we finally got out.
And then there was Connecticut. Last time we made this trip, we got caught in such horrible traffic going north that we ended up leaving the interstate and spent many, many hours on the smaller back roads. This time, highway signs warned of a massive back-up ahead due to an earlier accident on I95, so we got off onto 15, which turned out to be a very pleasant little highway. The rain was heavy enough that I wouldn't have been driving any faster on the interstate anyway, so we made reasonably good time, and somewhere around Orange we stopped for gas.
I went into the rest stop and got an iced tea, and came out to find D looking at the car with a panic-stricken expression. The keys were locked in. With the kids. I marched back inside through the rain, explained to the woman at the counter why we were still blocking her gas pump, and called AAA while staving off hysterics. One of the longest half hours of my life ensued, but it wasn't any longer than that before they had a truck there, and the guy manged to open the car for us. An extremely unhappy baby was changed and fed, and we got back on the road, determined not to stop again until we were home.
And we didn't. When we pulled in, I remembered to check the trip odometer: 1,365 miles. We were exhausted, naturally, but it was all in all a great trip. We saw a lot of people we don't get to see very often, which was the point of the whole thing. Next time we go somewhere, it will be with relaxing in mind....
I don't like New York.
Just wanted to get that out in the open. I'm not sure what it is, whether I've picked up some sort of Boston-based chauvinism, if it's a snobbish disdain for something merely because it's popular, or I'm unnerved by the sheer size of the place, but I don't “get” the attraction of the place. On this particular day I was a lot grouchier than normal, because JJ added to my travel exhaustion by keeping me up for an hour in the middle of the night. The weather had clouded up.
We pulled ourselves together and drove a short way down to the New York Aquarium, which we had settled on as something L was old enough to enjoy (the one bad thing about our hotel being its distance from the subway; we ended up driving everywhere we went). We got there right at opening, pulling into the lot between a couple of school buses. And then we saw all the other school buses. Apparently, the day of our visit coincided with a field trip for what looked like half the Brooklyn school system. This made me even more cranky.
We made it inside and rendezvoused with our friend as hordes of small children began pouring through the doors, watched over by teachers I would not have traded places with for all the money in the world. We ended up trying to time a lot of our travels around the place to get between the groups, which worked reasonably well as it turned out. It is a very nice aquarium, by the way. We had one anxious moment when we lost sight of L somewhere in the coral reef exhibit and exchanged a panicky “I thought you had her?!” but she was quickly located. On our way out, we even saw their star attraction, the baby walrus, and the sea otter, both of which had hidden away during our first pass by their enclosures.
We made the mandatory gift store stop (I got fully into my role as a tourist and bought a t-shirt), then left the aquarium and walked out onto the boardwalk. It was too early in the year for anything to be open, the beach was wide and nearly deserted under the gray sky. I parked myself on a bench with the hungry baby while the others went down to the water and poked around, and after some wandering around through the closed rides, we went back to our car. D managed to wedge himself into the back in between the car seats, and we drove up to our friend's apartment (which is extremely cramped by the standards of any other city, but I gather not bad for NY).
We hung out there for a while and then headed back out to find dinner. It was a little bit early for it, but this actually worked out quite well. We settled on El Pollo, a very small Peruvian place. We were the only ones there for most of the time we were eating, so L's restlessness didn't inconvenience anyone but our patient waiter (again, all she ate was applesauce).
After dinner we walked a bit farther down the street and found a playground where she could run around (we were somewhere in or near Park Slope, which I gather is currently famous for having lots of young parents). The rain had held off all day, the weather was still warm, and it was nice to watch the kids careering wildly around. A proposed further outing for the guys to a Japanese place down the street from our hotel was nixed on the grounds that they were too tired. We made plans to meet for breakfast, and headed back for our last night on the road.
Vegetable Lo Mein with Edamame and Mustard GreensThis is really an excellent recipe. It's quick to put together, adaptable, tasty, and supremely healthy. It's a good one for warm weather, too.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Chicken with Fresh Herbs and Sherry Wine Vinegar
This was my first time using those Perdue Perfect Portions, which my Shaws has just started carrying. I think it's a great idea, though I'm not normally a fan of Perdue. Mostly I buy Shaws "Wild Harvest" stuff, but their supply is dreadfully inconsistent, so I don't mind having a few well-packaged chicken breasts in the freezer.
Last night during dinner, JJ invented the "drop something and daddy picks it up for me, and I smile and drop it again" game. This morning he is playing the "put a toy over my face and then wiggle frantically until mommy takes it away" game.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
rigatoni with spicy sausage-tomato sauce, arugula, and parmesanI might add that my Shaws did not have any arugula (which is not the Firefox spellchecker, either). Too highfalutin, I suppose, so I used spinach. And their fresh basil was some of the saddest-looking stuff I have ever seen, so I used the last of my dried. Time for another Penzey's order! I only used one pound of sausage, and that was plenty--Bon Appetit tends to be a bit overenthusiastic about meat portioning.
I must also note that after several months of due consideration, I am not a fan of the magazine's restyled look. But past experience suggests that I should only have to put up with it for five years or thereabouts before they change it again, assuming that they still have a print edition at all by then.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Back on the road (again) to finish the drive across PA. Destination: New York. But we had a stop to make along the way, in Bloomsbury, NJ, where my husband spent several impressionable years of his childhood.
Driving across Pennsylvania, you mainly see PA license plates, and even more than that you see semis. It makes me think about what a major achievement the interstate system was and remains, how much work is put into keeping it running (and there's that pesky bridge maintenance problem, and the silly gas tax holiday two of the candidates are pushing right now), and how central trucking is to the national economy. There must be thousands of little trucking companies out there alongside the big carriers, moving every kind of thing imaginable from here to there. What they're going to do in this energy climate I have no idea.
The other thing we tend to think about as we cross PA is the graphic novel Fun Home. It's a fantastic book, and the author grew up in a tiny little town just out of sight from the interstate.
We stopped for lunch at a Perkins in Buckhorn, a small town attractively situated in a shallow bowl, surrounded by hills. Just east of it, the land started dropping; though we still went uphill part of the time, we were clearly coming out of the heights (I can't call them mountains, sorry).
An interminable drive later, we were in Bloomsbury, an attractive town full of flowering trees, well-maintained homes, sidewalks, creeks, and other things that make life worth living for a boy. The place is tiny; a single small school holds eight grades worth of kids. We walked around the block, admiring everything, and then returned to the school.
I took L out onto the playground while D talked to those few of his old teachers who were still around more than twenty years later. We had been out there for maybe 10 minutes when she came over to me, scratching at her arm. I saw the rising welt of a sting there, and a few minutes later she was wailing, so I took her back inside. When I found D., JJ was also in full cry and hungry. It was one of those parenting moments that you just have to laugh about. I was in a girls' room in a tiny school in New Jersey, nursing the baby and trying to give L a hug with my free arm while D tried to apply the ice pack one of his old teachers rustled up with impressive speed. Eventually the tears dried up, the baby subsided in contentment, and we got ourselves sorted out. I took L back to the car, and we sat in the shade and had juice and Teddy Grahams as a restorative while D and JJ walked around (the invention of the aseptic juice box being one of the great moments in parenting history). D took the wheel and drove around the town for a few minutes, pointing out landmarks, and then turned north for NYC.
Once in the city I took over driving again, D being better with maps than I am. Traffic in Brooklyn turned out to be crazy due to protesters about the Bell verdict (we didn't know that was the cause until later); we eventually made it onto the Beltway and crawled toward our exit, and of course JJ woke up hungry. Every minute spent with a wailing baby feels like ten. We found a handy pullout where I could feed him, while D and L looked at the ocean, rollerbladers, dog-walkers, etc.
Eventually we found out way down to where we were staying, which turned out to be in a touristy area, with lots of hotels, marinas, and restaurants, and several condo complexes under construction. We checked in and went back out in search of dinner. It was nearly 8 pm by then. We walked a few blocks and came across an Italian restaurant. It didn't look very busy, but it also didn't look like the sort of place that often hosted small children (or people in jeans and t-shirts, for that matter). We didn't want to keep walking through strange neighborhoods and maybe not find anything better, so we went in and asked for a table out of the way.
The food was all right, though overpriced, and the house merlot was pretty good. I had a salad with walnuts and strawberries, and some reasonable tilapia. In between the two, JJ started wailing again, which was most unlike him and also very poor timing. Eventually D took him outside and walked him around until he fell asleep. L, on the other hand, was astonishingly well-behaved. The girl who had thrown a thrashing fit about being fed yogurt in her own Nana's dining room sat cheerfully in this restaurant, ate bread, and scooped ice cubes out of the glasses. It was 9 by the time we left. Back at the hotel, I went to bed while D took advantage of the wifi to find out what we had been missing for most of the week.
I79 has a distinctive sound, a high-pitched whine you don't hear on any other highway I know. It was with us for quite some time as we drove south toward Butler, PA, where my father's mother lives. We hadn't seen her since the year L was born, our trips out to PA being usually too brief for a side trip that takes up most of a day, but we wanted her to meet JJ.
It was a very pleasant visit. Her house, too, doesn't seem to have changed one bit since the last time we were there, except for the addition of a cat. L threw a fit when it was time to sit down for lunch—until the offer was made that we eat out on the back deck, at which point she became all smiles and sunshine. Not exactly a hardship for any of us, as it was a perfectly gorgeous day. We sat outside, had a very good meal, and talked—about politics and religion until I changed the subject to genealogy. On our last visit we'd gotten to talking about her ancestors, and I had inexcusably not written down everything she said. This time I was prepared, and we spent a while mapping out that part of our family tree and listening to stories about people who seem to have universally lived well into their 90s if they survived childhood. The past is not so long ago as we sometimes think it is. I was pleased to learn that the farm is still in family hands; perhaps next visit we'll make our way out there for a look.
We departed in mid-afternoon. Rather than take 79 up to I80, we went by way of 68, which was very much the right thing to do. The car labored a bit on the hills as we wound our way through villages and farmland, but it was all beautiful and charming. One thing that always strikes me when I'm in that sort of country is how large all of the lawns are. You get the sense that absolutely everyone has a riding lawnmower (or perhaps a herd of goats) and clearly takes great pride in meticulously mowing a half acre or so of grass. Once upon a time this didn't seem quite so strange to me, but I've been living in cities for a while now.
We saw several billboards touting “clean coal” as the state's best bet for energy, one which went so far as to suggest doing so would ward off terrorism (a sentiment echoed by my grandmother at one point in our conversation). The industry is obviously in the throes of a major PR push.
Eventually we got back on the interstate and zipped across the remaining miles to DuBois, PA (pronounced dew-boys), where we were spending the night with friends of my husband, the Ks. They have a neat old house, two black and white cats, and a large, rambunctious, and fortunately friendly dog, which turned out to be a major hit with L, who laughed harder than I have ever seen at its antics. This was much to our relief, as all of the traveling was obviously starting to wear on her. We enjoyed a very pleasant evening with them, went out to Julio's for dinner (her father owns it), came back, talked some more, and went exhausted to bed.
Our last day in Erie. D and I got up early and drove down to Meadville, where we both went to college. A detour took us off the highway for some miles, and the Pennsylvania countryside was at its best, with the frost not yet off the low fields, mist rising from hidden hollows, the trees cloaked in bright spring green, the woods and rolling fields that always make me think of Tolkien's Shire. Only the frequent roadkill made it less than entirely lovely.
We were going down to have breakfast with a college friend of ours and her husband. We met at Perkins, as tradition demanded, so the table was shortly encumbered with astonishing amounts of food. Our friend is currently a professor at our mutual alma mater, although not for much longer. She had depressing things to say about the state of the school, about class sizes that have swelled beyond the capacity of faculty and facilities, the eroding committment to individual attention that was once the school's hallmark, the pressure on junior faculty to publish or get out, the store set on research grants and never mind the students. Apparently half the faculty is on anti-anxiety medication, which doesn't bode well for the place. Since the loans that allowed me to attend have finally been paid off, I was going to start sending them some money this year, but am now wondering if I should instead send them a sharply worded note.
As we were getting ready to leave a bus pulled in, full of old people from West Virginia (Wheeling, I think one of them might have said when I asked where they were from), coming up to visit the casino. They must have driven all night, with another couple of hours to go. I don't understand gambling, so to me it seems like an odd thing to do, but it's quite popular these days.
The day's second errand was to buy my mother a birthday present. I had hit on the idea of getting her something for the garden, so we went to a local nursery and poked around for a while, and ended up purchasing a pink flowering dogwood. A stop at the grocery store followed, and then lunch, and in the afternoon we went to the zoo.
It was our second trip there with L. Last time it was a Memorial Day weekend and the temperature had gotten to an unseasonable 90 degrees. This visit was far more pleasant. It was a Monday, and the place was very quiet except for a few other families with young children in tow. We went on the merry-go-round twice, and were the only ones on it. We took things at L.'s pace, and tried not to force her to look at things, though sometimes it was hard not to get frustrated. She's not even four yet, so her attention span isn't all that great, but it was a beautiful day to be outside, to look at the flowers (and the animals, of course—Erie has a pretty decent zoo for a city its size) and just enjoy being there. We finally left about 3:30, pleasantly tired, and spent the remainder of the day quietly. My mother found a recipe for pasta primavera in an old Moosewood cookbook, which turned out more than acceptably. My sister did our laundry, which was awfully nice of her, and we packed everything up and turned in.
JJ slept through the night this time, which was more than I did due to the lingering neck pain. Note to self: whatever did that, don't do it again! He got up at 6, so I did too. I did a bit of work on a D&D campaign I'm thinking about running, maybe next year.
Everyone was up early, some less pleased about it than others. The weather had cleared up and gotten colder. L was tired and clingy all morning, but she perked up a bit after lunch (a sort of quiche from an ancient Bisquick recipe). JJ played, napped, played, and napped some more.
In the afternoon, we went to visit my grandparents, in the house in which they have lived for nearly forty years. It's a little strange seeing a place that was such an important part of my childhood, now visited once or twice a year but virtually unchanged in most of its details. The room my sister and I stayed in when we used to spend the night with them, once my uncles, still looks just the same as it always has.
My sister and her family were there as well, four generations around the table. We had a thoroughly enjoyable visit, a lovely dinner, and the kids behaved reasonably well, although Lydia wasn't hungry (too wound up again) and watched Shrek while the rest of us ate. We left reluctantly when dark had nearly fallen.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
I was up around 5, but dozed for an hour until it was clear that JJ was waking up. Fed and changed him, got him settled on a blanket with a toy, and then my upper back seized up. Spent the rest of the day wincing whenever I turned my head, and blamed the hours of driving. A quiet morning otherwise, puttering around, getting the kids fed and ourselves ready, looking at the garden in progress. The pear tree is in gorgeous bloom, tulips are up, and the lawn is full of violets.
It rained all day, so in the end we didn't really do anything but hang around the house, play with the kids, take the dog for walks. We went to Wegman's, which I adore—Worcester doesn't have any good grocery stores, as far as I can tell—and gave L. a bath after dinner (black bean and goat cheese quesadillas, one of a handful of things my mother will cook). My sister and her daughter came over again,so for a while there we had four adults and three kids (and six cats and a dog and a tank of fish) in a house that's maybe 900 sq. ft. and quite lively. The daughter spent the night, and it was quite a production getting everyone ready for bed and settled.
Portobello Mushroom Fajitas
Saturday, May 10, 2008
We hit the road on Friday, May 2, a little before 9 am. (it takes a while to get two small children ready to leave home for a week, and then to run through the whole apartment twice to make sure we haven't forgotten anything important, left the oven on, what have you). A single stop for coffee, and we were on the highway. A gray and dismal-looking day met us, but it wasn't really raining, just mist and fog. We talked about the new car, about the trip, about work, gas prices, and random things. JJ played with a teething toy and fell asleep. We stopped for more gas before leaving MA, since the New York Thruway tends to be pricey.
About 11:30 we stopped for lunch. Quizno's veggie sub on whole wheat, about the best one is going to do for healthy food at a rest stop. I got some potato chips in hopes that L. would eat something—often when we travel, she's too tired and wound up and barely eats a thing, guaranteed to arrive at our destination on the point of meltdown. She drank some milk and had some applesauce we had brought, refusing all else.
Back on the road through eastern New York state. The boys fell asleep. L. stared out the window, thinking whatever she thinks about. I thought about things I always return to during a long drive—geology, the life cycle of the landscape, the changes of the past fifty years on the small towns and cities we pass—and played my usual memory game of keeping all of the state license plates we've seen in an alphabetic list. This trip we collected California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia, as well as Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec. Not many, but travel season isn't really underway yet. We did see a few large campers on the road, laughing to scorn current gas prices I suppose.
After about 300 miles we switched off driving, and the weather promptly got worse as we passed through bands of heavy spattering rain. I read my new Saveur and an issue of Food & Wine I had picked up the day before. I have a longstanding tendency to bring a ton of reading material with me on a trip and never get around to it. This time I restricted myself to a few magazines, figuring that any spare time I ended up with could be profitably used for writing, or even working if I got really bored (this did not in fact happen).
We made it through Buffalo without getting caught in rush-hour traffic. Just before the state line, the gas light came on. We pulled off at the next exit and bought a few gallons at a gas station with old-fashioned, non-digital pumps, where the first digit in $3.96 had been printed out and pasted on at some point.
We got into Erie about 6:30 pm., not too bad given the necessary stops, and spent a pleasant evening with my mom, sister, and niece. The new house was duly admired, the journey discussed, and we got takeout from the Chinese place around the corner for dinner. L did indeed melt down when we asked her to stop playing with her cousin's toys and eat something for dinner. Even her favorite things resulted in sobbing, writhing, and general histrionics. We got some juice into her and let her go, after which her cousin cleverly got her to eat some graham crackers by eating some herself. We wondered if this might work with, say, broccoli, but decided not to push it. JJ hasn't yet reached the point where he's afraid of strange people, and was thoroughly charming as usual. Sometime around 10 we all got to bed. JJ slept peacefully in his Pack'n'Play, waking up only once for a late-night snack. We endured investigation by several of the cats, and otherwise slept soundly ourselves.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
His reach is getting steadier, and he can get his hands to his mouth pretty dependably, so anything in reach is liable to be thoroughly gummed. He smiles a lot, "talks" a lot (still mainly vowels though), laughs once in a while, and he's starting to find blowing bubbles to be fun. He can't quite stay sitting up on his own, but he likes to be held that way so he can see what's going on. He sleeps for a very long stretch most nights.
In sum, all milestones are go, and we think he's the best little boy ever.